Thursday, 12 November 2009

fashionable academics?

I find it hilarious and yet kind of awesome that this exists. Thinking about what you wear can be fun (especially for academics, who like to think about things). Reggie brought me back some amazing tights from Germany: one red pair and one blue pair. They are the thick ones (kindergarteny, my undergrad internship student says), so comfy and bright and unlikely to run. Pleased.

In other news, this sentence analysis thingy is also super awesome... I think I have a decent ear for what "sounds wrong" in academic writing, but fixing it is another matter altogether. Although of course I could always go with randomly generated ones.

Monday, 26 October 2009

October

So Steph had to call and tell me what is going on with my family, as per the blog. Possibly something wrong there. I go through phases where I forget to check. I am so jealous of all those going to Scotland... if only silly old Ontario had Fall as well as Spring Reading Week! But alas. I am just counting down the time until Christmas. And my birthday! Although that will likely suck, because... Guelph. But maybe something nice will happen.

Sophie came to visit last weekend and I was SO VERY VERY excited to see her. Love having visitors (and have tested out the futon and know it is comfy, so sort of feel like I have a guest bedroom to offer) (even if only one duvet cover! But don't worry, the duvet cover is always offered to the guest). We had a lovely time doing not very much except chatting - it has been a LONG time. Katie the Newfie came over Saturday night for a bit of an impromptu girls night/craft night (she is attempting to knit a toque and I am making a sock monkey for Del's friend Pauline's baby Chloe) and on Sunday we just sort of wandered around Guelph. Discovered that what I thought was a bakery was a gorgeous upscale-food shop like the one that was down the road from me in Edinburgh. We had some 75% dark chocolate and I got chai masala and some smoked garlic (I am a sucker for spices in lovely tins). Sophie bought me something called Mayan Hot Chocolate: ingredients cocoa liquour, organic sugar, cocoa powder, chili peppers, ginger, orange peel, Madagascar vanilla and "a unique blend of spices". It is amazing! It may or may not be the same thing I had at the Hillside festival, but I love it. Too bad it's so bloody expensive... but since Sophie totally rocks, now I have some :)

Work's going well. I had a look at my data on Friday and it is looking good! very happy about that. This week I have to collect the rest of it (sigh) and then start on a write-up, I guess. I feel like this is a really big deal on one hand, but on the other need to keep thinking about the next thing...

My supervisor also went to a conference last week, so I took his class. I only had to talk to them for ten minutes or so and then meet with groups individually, so wasn't too scary. Felt like it was good experience, though. Oh, and it also wasn't too scary because I had to give a presentation to my Neuroscience class (that I am taking, not teaching) the week before, and TOTALLY STUFFED UP* the powerpoint - so after surviving that, ten minutes of talking to a bunch of fourth-years did not seem scary.

Apart from that, have been very much a homebody lately. It is boring, but on the other hand I am richer and thinner from the lack of alcohol (though the late-night visits to the Salsateria have persisted). I've been to a few gigs, though, because a friend hooked me up with his former roommate Melissa, on the basis that we both hate Guelph. She is doing an internship here and is a big ol' music geek (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) and keeps her ear to the ground about shows and then drags me along. It has been excellent. Last week we saw Ohbijou as well as the Hidden Cameras, because Melissa knows a band member. Yay for getting to hang with the band after the gig! makes me feel special.

Anyway, have done my yoga and had my tea, so off to bed before 11pm hits. Good lord, I am turning into Steph...


*[I made a beautiful, gorgeous powerpoint, emailed it to myself, saved it on my USB drive {or so I thought... dun dun dun} and then went to give the presentation. Two slides in, I realised that half of the slides were wrong - and suddenly came to understand that when I had backed it up to the desktop, I forgot to re-save on the drive... so all my three hours of careful edits were no longer there. However, I had already started talking and it was a bit late to ask to start fiddling about with my email... so I just gave the talk anyway, and had to draw my diagrams that should have been on the slides in living colour on the whiteboard, from memory. Ridiculous. I thought I screwed up bigtime, but after the talk was over, one of the profs told me it was impressive that I didn't need my slides to explain and could do it all from memory... so maybe I pulled it off!]

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Cheap like borscht

I just made some seriously rockin' borscht. This recipe is pretty confusing to follow, but the end result is YUM (and a lovely shade of red). The beets, carrot, potatoes and dill are all out of the garden!

Unfortunately, I am home making borscht on a Saturday night instead of at Nuit Blanche in TO like I should be because I am ill. I'm not as ill as yesterday, so was tempted to go, but it struck me as possibly a bad idea to stay up till 6am in the rain (first Greyhound back is at that time - I have no crash space in TO) while still recovering. I find it odd that no matter what I catch, the main symptom is a massive fever. It's usually one to two days of no ability to thermoregulate whatsoever, and then another day or two of feeling really burnt out and exhausted. I guess it must kill the germs, though - or something.

So, as expected, it's an incredibly busy semester. I am taking a Neuroscience course that is pretty full-on - lots to learn and lots of work. I am TAing two courses, one of which requires the kids to update Wikipedia on a cognitive neuroscience topic as one of their assignments (so I am responsible for first learning to do this, then teaching them to do it!) I managed to end up joining both the TA Administrative Council and the executive of the WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering) club, both of which have millions of meetings. And of course I'm writing a review paper and attempting to get some research done. And maybe exercise once in a while (joined an intramural soccer team!)

I think it could be quite a fun semester, as long as I can figure out some way to get everything done. There's always extra stuff too - scholarship applications, helping out the honours students, going to lectures and seminars. It's mostly all stuff I like, but when the pressure is on nothing is fun. Need to figure out how to fit everything in such that the pressure is hardly ever on.

Not being sick would be a good start. Oh well.

Had an excellent trip out to Killarney Park right before the semester started. I went with Mark the neighbour and Reggie, who is German (and therefore did all hiking and portaging in a bikini - and wore less than that the rest of the time). The lakes were amazing. I forget sometimes that Ontario is not all cities... There are only a few campsites per lake, so most of the time there was no one else around at all.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here are some pictures.















So beautiful. The portaging was hard-core but enjoyable, and it was so nice to be outside for four days straight. Well worth missing the first week of class, I would say! I am definitely going back.

Monday, 7 September 2009

finally some excitement!

Sorry about the long silence. August was crap and not much worth writing about. Yuck.

But! It is September and I am feeling better. This weekend I got to both check out the Elora Quarry (a quarry with a spring in it and a little sandy beach - I swam around for over an hour) and a conservation area near Guelph (the downstairs neighbours were kind enough to bring me along on that one). It also had a little pond to swim in, which was quite cool. (Although then we went and sat by a stinky lakeshore for hours - didn't quite get that one, you couldn't even swim).

And now I have been invited along on a portaging trip to Killarney, which I am very excited about. It was a tough call, as this is a terrible week to be gone - I will be missing all the orientation stuff at Guelph once again, plus my first Neuroscience class. Bad. But I am SO dying to get out of here, and I couldn't pass up the chance to try portaging! We are renting a canoe onsite and (according to Neighbour Mark) not doing more than 5-6 hours paddling and portaging per day. It looks gorgeous and it's not supposed to rain (though I can imagine it will be freezing). I am currently packing massive piles of trail mix and quinoa for the trip. Exciting!

So see you after, if I don't get eaten by a bear... we should be back Saturday night.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Accomplishment

Today I ran up the insane steps that separate the Ward (where I live) from the posh bits of Guelph. RAN up them! I walk up them on a weekly basis to get groceries, and even that usually kills me after. On the way down I counted them. 106 - and pretty steep at that. I suppose it would be a very cheap fitness challenge to try and work my way up to running up them and THEN not collapsing afterwards!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

the kindness of strangers




Things have gone all to heck with work. We should have been able to start testing my first real experiment for my PhD (code name Hot or Not) tomorrow. All was ready to go... until my undergrad assistant happened to mention today that she just remembered that one of the people she tested earlier in the summer while I was away had invalid data because the computer died halfway through testing. This data was what we were basing tomorrow's stuff on, and now I find it is all wrong. Everything has to be reanalyzed without that guy's data included, which takes ages.

So I found myself at the lab late today. I started around 3. It was almost 9pm by the time I looked up, so thought I should be getting home. I got outside, and the storm of the century was upon us! (see above).

It wasn't raining yet, but there was a HUGE lightshow above me - sheet lightning every few seconds, flickering all over the sky. I was terrified (I fear being hit by lightning!) But buses stop at 6pm on Sundays in Guelph (STUPID GUELPH!) so I couldn't catch a ride home.

Then the rain started. Torrential. I didn't have a coat because it was incredibly hot and muggy today, so I was soaked through within minutes.

I was huddled under a tree*, praying (SCARED OF LIGHTNING!) when a guy in red car pulled up and asked if I wanted a ride.

THANK YOU!

My rescuer said he hoped he didn't seem creepy, but he remembered being a student with no car (and he had rescued an old lady and her shopping during Tuesday's storm). I said, nope, not creepy, and I am incredibly grateful. He was a pilot called Cory who was just on his way home. He drove me to my block (not the exact house - I'm not THAT trusting) and now I am watching the storm with the lights out because the power keeps dying anyway. Incredible light show. My rescuer said he heard there were tornado warnings too, but haven't seen any funnel clouds yet.

I hope Cory got home safe**, but I will forever be thankful... and pick up all soaked pedestrians during lightning storms if I ever get a car.


* contrary to my dad's opinion, I DO know enough to come in out of the rain, even if trees might attract lightning!

** and that the rain hasn't knocked all my tomatoes off - they are almost ready!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

There's a Reason that I Hate This Town

Well, there are many and none. It's not Guelph's fault, I suppose, but I want out of this place. I wish I'd coughed up the money/time away from work and gone back to Alberta for Folk Fest/Leslie's wedding/family holiday. Bah. As it is, I'm stuck here in the rain and everyone I remotely enjoy the company of has left town en mass. Lucky rats.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Lego masonry

Excellent use of Lego... Bricks are bricks, I guess!

Monday, 27 July 2009

Awesome.

baked lard
Serves 3
You will need:

* 150ml brandy
* 150g lard

Preparation:

* sift the brandy
* barbeque the lard
* throw it all away



Get your own random recipe here!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

WJ

Oh yeah, forgot to mention last night in my exhausted haze that Will's beard stole the show.... all of Wales was very impressed (or horrified, I couldn't tell which!) My friends were a little surprised by his penchant for composing sermons at parties rather than dancing, but pronounced him "cute as a button".

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

a post through the jet lag...

Back safe from the UK. Back in Guelph. SIGH. Man, was it ever hard to leave. I kept thinking, "oh well, at least the weather is generally nice in Guelph" and returned to pouring rain. Hmph.

Had a great trip, though. Far too much rushing around the country (there was an extra trip to Bournemouth that I totally could have skipped but didn't want to disappoint Del) but a great time in general. I got in to Gatwick after telling my ride that it was Heathrow (oops). Luckily he checked the e-ticket I sent him before leaving, but it was an extra hour's drive for him. Double oops. But since we were down in that end of the country anyway, we decided to see Brighton while we were there. We drove down and had a gorgeous English breakfast - exactly what I needed. Brighton was pretty awesome despite the rain. I happen to like crashy waves, and there were plenty of those. We also played around on the pier and I got to ride on a Mary Poppins-style carousel. I rode side-saddle, of course.

Brighton is actually a really cool town. I wish we could have stayed longer. Even in the rain, we had a great time. I remember trying for weeks to get down there when I lived in London, but there were railworks at the time and the only option was a four-hour coach ride. Needless to say, I didn't bother. Will definitely have to go back some day, though. Lots of tacky seaside stuff, jellied eels for sale, excellent-looking places to go out and (for some reason) a designated gay charity shop.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday lying low around Oxfordshire and recovering from jet lag - one day out in Oxford, one in Banbury. Nothing too exciting. On Friday we drove up to London for Del's friend's wedding. We had two nights in the hotel where his friends were staying, which was excellent as his friends were awesome. My mate Aonghus from my Masters was there too. I was very pleased to see him, as he skipped grad. We also ended up randomly going to a tiny Italian restaurant run by tiny Italian women - the food was AMAZING. It was clearly the kind of place where you have to reserve days in advance - but we happened to wander in just as a two-person table came free. Yum.

The wedding itself was amazing. I loved it! It was a backyard wedding and absolutely lovely. They had set up a tent with a table for the wedding party and family, and the rest of us were on rugs on the grass under a marquee thingy. Each rug had a picnic basket with a loaf of French bread and two or three types of cheeses, plus a bottle of champagne. (There was even a seating plan - "You're on rug two, back corner"!) It was BYOB, but all the alcohol was put on one table and served to you as you asked, so it was essentially a full bar for the cost of a bottle or so per guest.

The ceremony was Humanist - new one to me, but pretty nice. Lots of stories about the happy couple and lots of poetry readings. After the ceremony, we all queued for a fish supper - they actually had a fish'n'chip van parked outside the house! This was the only party that sucked a bit, as it took a LONG time to serve everyone. Still, the fish was really nice so I can't complain. Then, later in the evening, there was a hog roast and everyone got a bun with meat and apple sauce. This must be some kind of tradition, as it has featured in both UK weddings I have attended.

The best part, of course, was the 1940s theme. The wedding invitations were designed like ration cards from 1947 and looked amazing. Everyone really got into the challenge of dressing the part. There were a lot of RAF and army men, one Biggles, one Rosie the Riveter, and countless women in excellent hats. I even saw Indiana Jones wander past. Del was in an RAF uniform (very dashing, although one of his friends commented, "Although I don't dislike the uniform, you have to admit that there is something of the bus conductor about the man.") I cobbled together an outfit from the Vintage Advantage here in Guelph, pulled together by a few key accessories. I found a perfect red necklace at BHS for three pounds (plastic jewellery had just come out right about then, and was all the rage) and made Del pick me out some red lipstick because he is so much better at that sort of thing. I think it made the outfit, in the end. Black dress, black lace top, black pillbox hat with veil, black shoes, stockings with seam, and then red necklace and lipstick. Very striking. I also attempted victory rolls (that 40s rolled hair look) and Del was kind enough to curl the hair down the back for me!

Of course, everything didn't go as planned. Someone had told Del that the wedding was "five minutes around the corner". We were late getting ready, of COURSE, and late leaving. However, we decided to walk so as not to have to worry about the car. 25 minutes later, my feet were bleeding and there was no sign of the wedding venue. I asked Del if he had Mapquested the route, and he said yes. "How far did it say it was?" "Er, 2.3 miles" "!!!" There was no way I could walk that far in my fancy shoes, so I sat down on a wall in full 1947 regalia while Del ran back to get the car in full RAF uniform. In the end, we turned up almost 45 minutes late - and missed nothing at all. PHEW!

The most amusing moment of the wedding was during the ceremony. Del's friend Edelle was giving a gorgeous rendition of "Danny Boy" and it was totally silent. Suddenly, there was a huge BANG as the person beside me accidentally let off a champagne cork. In his struggle to control it, he caught the cork with his face! Champagne sprayed everywhere and it was almost impossible not to giggle through the remainder of "Danny Boy". Sorry, Edelle.

Being an Irish wedding, it went on all night and I had a great time. The next morning was not quite so pleasant, but never mind. I definitely wouldn't have missed it.

On Monday, I went back into London to see some friends. Man, I don't miss that place. I felt grimy, stressed and exhausted by the time I got back to Banbury. And my eyes were itching! I totally blamed it on London when I got conjunctivitis twice in a row when I lived there, and I think I was right.

Following London was a flying trip to Bournemouth (about 3 hours' drive) to visit Del's friend Ciara. I was promised beaches, so despite being exhausted I went along. We got there and sat around in Ciara's backyard chatting for a while. Finally, we packed up the gear for a picnic on the beach and headed down. We arrived, sat down, and... the heavens opened. Ciara's boyfriend made a run for it back to town, but luckily for me she was made of sterner stuff. We grabbed our gear, found an arch to shelter from the rain, lit the portable BBQ and had our picnic while watching the storm!

Wednesday, we drove back from Bournemouth and then up to Bangor. Long, crappy journey, not helped by the roadworks that diverted us through Flint - INTO another set of roadworks. The queue of cars was endless, and so slow that the locals were sitting on the walls of their gardens, chatting with passing (sort of) motorists. Once we were through that, the detour then directed us up a mountain... ah, Wales. Sigh.

Having finally escaped Flint, I texted Thandi for directions. "Take Junction 9", she replied. So we duly took Junction 9, only to find that none of her other directions seemed to apply. After some discussion, Del managed to bring up a map on his Blackberry. It told us to do a loop, head back in the same direction, and take Junction 11. After finally arriving, three hours late, Thandi said, "I DID say Junction 11, right?"

Grad itself was quite good, and not nearly as long as I had feared. Everything was in Welsh and English, but they kept it quite snappy. One shortish speech and a nice harp recital, and that was about it. Walked across the stage, collected degree, took obligatory photos. I was quite excited that Will was able to make it, though. I didn't think it would matter, but it made a huge difference having a family member in attendance. And anyway, he gave me a gorgeous necklace for grad!

Anyway, this is getting insanely long and I want to go to bed (jet lag!) Suffice it to say that the after-grad party was seriously fun, Bangor was same as always, complete with pouring rain and restaurants that are always closed just as want them to be open, and a good time was definitely had.

Oh,and I managed to collect a bunch of stuff I had left with Thandi and Del and bring it back here. My bags were 10kg overweight, but the guy didn't even mention it and just waved me through. Del was watching and later told me he looked at the scales, looked at me, looked at the scales, looked at my chest and waved me through. This is unconfirmed, though (ie. I totally didn't notice) so I will just be happy for the lack of extra fees!

Friday, 19 June 2009

one degree of Kevin Spacey

Am in Hamilton at a conference. (Yes, I know - I get to go to all the most exotic ones!) The conference is pretty informal, but it's all people from the universities in the area who study attention and performance. So pretty interesting. It's only a two-dayer, but my supervisor put us up in the dorms on campus. It is kind of fun, as I never actually lived in a dorm room in undergrad. It smells exactly like camp rooms did. I have to say, living in a one-bedroom basement suite with Stephie was cozy, but I never would have survived sharing a three-meter-wide room with some random roommate for an entire school year.

Anyway, the most interesting part of the whole experience (sorry, attention researchers) was watching the filming of the movie Casino Jack. We first realised something was going on when some guy brandishing an umbrella started yelling at all the passing academics, rolling his hands above his head and yelling, "Quiet! Rolling! QUIET! ROLLING!!!" You could practically see the question marks above the heads of the venerable academics. ("Rolling? What?") But they had a big crane with a camera on it pointing at a balcony just above our heads.

Turned out the balcony in question was attached to the grad lounge, so there was nothing for it but to go have lunch there. Alex, the post-doc, Asma, my labmate, and I managed to end up seated right in front of the window to the balcony. We were gazing right over the directors' chairs (who knew they actually use chairs like that?!) and into the monitor showing what was being filmed. We watched Kevin Spacey on the monitor screw something up and burst out laughing, and just as I said, "I wonder if we'll actually see him?" he came wandering over to our section of the window. Neat! We walked past the equipment trucks on the way back - so many cables and bits of equipment, and like 50 shades of what I assume were filters for the lights. To anyone in the film industry: I will happily give you a tour of my lab if you show me what all that interesting equipment actually does!

Oooh, speaking of our lab, my supervisor has managed to secure the funds to build a brand new one. And in the meantime, they are moving us out of our basement dungeon (accessed by walking THROUGH the janitor's closet) and into a new space with WINDOWS! I am very, very pleased with this turn of events.

Monday, 15 June 2009

weekend stuff

Oops, started this Saturday and forgot to post:
"
Wow, looks like a beautiful day, and I am feeling motivated. Going to make a cheesecake for the neighbour's birthday and work on some projects. I love Saturdays.

Projects = making lampshades for two AWESOME kitschy lamps I found at Value Village last week (although as they are clearly from the '60s, I am going to get dad to check that they are actually safe to use!) and making a coffee table out of a board covered in trashy romance novel pages with a fruit box base. You may ask why my house suddenly looks like someone lives in it (rather than as if the occupant were still in the throes of unpacking, as it did for the first six months) and the answer would be that Steph came to visit. Stuff happens when Stephanie is around. She bought me a bookshelf, for one thing. TECHNICALLY my arrangement of fruit boxes was working, more or less, but I have to say having an actual piece of furniture certainly adds something. And since we had a lot of time to play (as I skipped out on most work for her visit) there were crafts galore.
"

And now it is Monday and the cheesecake was delicious (did NY style with a strawberry-mango topping that turned out AMAZING - the neighbour was very pleased) and I got lots done. Went to Costco (and spent too much, but it is all useful stuff), cleaned the house, and spent most of yesterday in the garden with Oliver and Katie. Everything is coming up and now that it is weeded it looks so good. Also went to two bonfire parties and stayed out till 5am again. Pretty awesome weekend, in fact, in a quiet kind of way. This week, like last week, will involve much hard work to get a few projects off the ground before my parents arrive. I'll still have to work during those two weeks, but with a bit of effort now I should be able to escape for a while here and there as well. And I fully plan to do nothing at all useful (well, very little) while I am in the UK in July!

And with that note, back to work. Am trying to learn how to program in Python... getting there, but we have skipped straight to Classes in three lessons, and I have had to get a book out of the library to try and catch up! My last official programming experience was intro Comp Sci in second year undergrad...

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

I didn't think I looked addicted...

Did my first day of testing at the addictions treatment facility yesterday. It went remarkably well, in that I had one person booked and three actually agreed to be tested. They are super disorganised there, but also super friendly and helpful (which I think I prefer). Anyway, it is a pretty boring experiment involving pressing buttons on a computer, but at least it is short. I set up the laptop for them and gave them chocolate afterwards - that seemed to go over well. And nobody was phased by being asked pointed questions about their drugs of choice. They were all lovely about sitting through the experiment and happy to help, and also curious about what the point was. Much better than bored/hungover undergrads any day!

The best part, though, was when I showed up to the Admissions building to try and get someone to show me the room where I could test, and some woman asked if I was checking in.

In other news, Oliver gave me a giant box of asparagus from a yield trial (where they just need to weigh the produce and then get rid of it). It has taken over my fridge. I have made asparagus quiche, asparagus soup, asparagus fried rice, and asparagus tacos (not really recommended, though), plus have barbequed them a couple of times with butter, PLUS have had a lot of normal steamed asparagus. Am running out of ways to use it before it all goes bad! I used to hate asparagus as a kid - good thing that changed before now.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Garden!

Don't worry, my leg didn't fall off. Only the skin on my ankle did (after two weeks of two kinds of antibiotics). Now I have nice pink new skin there and all is good.

Had a pretty busy couple of weeks getting a studentship application in. They are a LOT of work and I don't feel it's very likely I'll get this one, so a crappy return on investment. However, when your supervisor says "apply for this", you can't really say "No, it's probably a bad ROI." I suppose it's good experience, blah blah blah, writing up research proposals and all that. No fun, though.

So I killed myself working on that all last week, handed it in*, and promptly got completely ill and stayed that way for the whole long weekend.

Unfortunately, we also put a good bit of our giant garden in that weekend, and I felt compelled to get out there and do some work despite being diseased. Don't think that helped me heal too quickly. Garden looks great, though. It is actually in two bits - our grand plan for MY garden fell by the wayside when the landlady's husband's daughter and her boyfriend moved into the bottom of my house. They seemed very nice, so the first thing I asked them was, "You guys don't like gardening, do you?" The answer, sadly, was an enthusiastic "YEAH! We can't wait to get out there and get a garden in! We can share the space, right?" Sigh.

So, it was time to rethink. We didn't want to halve our grand garden plans (considering there are five of us in on this, and a tiny garden = not much yield per person). So I cut a deal with the Boys Next Door, who have a massive yard and had just let it all go to weeds. Oliver and I dug a 1050sq ft garden on their side of the fence in return for cutting them in on the food produced. So then the garden looked great but the yard was a mess. This guilted the Boys N. D. into mowing the weeds, getting rid of the garbage, and making a gorgeous fire pit plus two benches. Now their yard looks amazing, we have our garden (half in their yard and half in mine), and the unemployed downstairs neighbour is spending all his time landscaping our yard, so now it looks great too. Moral of the story: always make nice with the neighbours.

So far we have planted potatoes, rocket (arugula), lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes, tomatillos (which Del thought would be a cross between a tomato and an armadillo), and huckleberries, which are mysterious to all of us but someone gave to Oliver. This weekend we will do the big plant, although I'm not sure when we will fit it in. I have a conference on fMRI all weekend (organised by my supervisor, so no skipping), a party tonight, and the Boys N. D. are hosting the Beer Olympics tomorrow afternoon at their place. Probably a bit difficult to plant a garden in the midst of people performing the Keg Put and the 100 Litre Dash.




*not without drama - my supervisor did not give me his letter of reference until 2.30 due to printer issues, and the post office closed at 3.00. Although I was only sending it across campus, the instructions declared that the envelope had to be postmarked by 5pm on the deadline. So I ended up sprinting across campus clutching an envelope in one hand and all my attachments in the other, bursting into the post office two minutes before it shut, and frantically scribbling the envelope while the post office lady (who was keen to get started on her long weekend) stood over me ranting about how the mail guy would be there AT 3PM and I better hurry. I only hope it was somewhat legible...

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Infection!

Woke up on Monday with an extremely itchy ankle. By Tuesday it was hugely swollen and bright red and sore, with a little white scab on top. Del badgered me until I went to the doctor today, even though they are always dismissive and only ever tell me nothing's really wrong. Or if it is, they can't fix it. Anyway, the lady at the front desk wanted to give me a Friday appointment, but agreed to let me hang out in the waiting room, be seen by a nurse and maybe sent to a doctor if it was urgent.

So the nurse came along, took one look and went "WHOA! It's a good thing you came in when you did - that thing would be halfway up your leg by Friday!" eek! Anyway, so she sent me straight in to the doctor, who was lovely, and now I have an oral antibiotic and an antibiotic cream, so hopefully my leg won't fall off. Oh, and a talking-to from the nurse about going in to check if I'm still allergic to penicillin, and getting a medic alert bracelet if I am.

In other news, I learned to make quiche from scratch this week! Very exciting. I need to stop making them soon because it is probably sending my cholesterol levels through the roof, but SO GOOD!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Neighbours

I pruned my vineyard today.

Okay, let's be honest, ERIK pruned my two lines of grapevines. But it was still pretty cool.

Met the neighbour on the other side. Her name is Frankie. Hers is the small yappy dog I keep hearing. Her husband is bedbound and when they tried to take him to the hospital for his lungs, his heart stopped. Now his leg is falling off and one toe is entirely black and they are trying to decide where to amputate. He lost 150 pounds and now he weighs 120, but he can shuffle around the house.

Frankie also told me about the old Italian guy who used to own the house, which explains a LOT. Apparently the downstairs windows are covered with home-made booby tracks to electrocute burglars. Have to keep an eye out for that one...

The other neighbours are having a bonfire tonight, though, so must be off.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

neuroplasticity and addiction

I would like to take the opportunity to say a big huge THANK YOU to my parents for the great job they did of not screwing me up. Seriously. The more I learn about this whole turning genes on and off business (which is referred to as epigenetics, apparently) the more I realize how lucky I am.

Which is to say that I saw a very good talk tonight by Dr. Gabor Maté called The Four Compassions: A humane response to addictions. Lisa, if you haven't heard this guy you should make an effort to check him out. This stuff is right up your alley.

It was a perfect counterpoint to the talk by Bryan Kolb last week. Dr. Kolb was talking about animal models of attachment and stress responses in the context of brain neuroplasticity. Dr. Maté was effectively talking about the exact same thing, except he's talking about the examples he sees every day on the street. He works in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver at the Portland Hotel, working with people with mental health and addiction issues. He took great pains to point out this sort of research that has been done - he cited a study I hadn't heard about. It was an ERP study on six-month-old human infants. He said that they could tell from looking at the pattern of the EEG which babies had depressed mothers. Good lord. It makes perfect sense that this kind of thing would have an effect on infants, but I don't think I ever realized the huge amount of brain plasticity involved. The effects of stress and depression (parental or the child's) can have enormous consequences later in life.

Anyway, Dr. Maté's point was that if you take that into consideration, there is no choice BUT to respond compassionately to addiction. They're not doing it because they're bad people, and they're certainly not doing it just to annoy us. They're doing it because their brains have been changed by (often horrible) childhood experiences, and they are using the drugs to medicate the pain. Criminalizing addiction won't do anything. Of course I've been reading a ton about this stuff from the brain/cognitive side myself, and Dr. Kent Berridge has a theory that addiction represents a dissociation of liking and wanting. Addicts don't like the drugs - they cause nothing but problems. But their brain wants them, and that is a primal kind of craving that is difficult or impossible to resist.

(As a sidenote, I have been thinking about starting a wee side blog where I take the pretty fascinating finds I read about all day and translate them into language a person without a lot of very specific education would understand and sort of write them up that way. I think it would be good for me, plus it's pretty crazy interesting stuff, but hard to get into without access to the databases).

Anyway, this was a very timely lecture for me to hear. Sooner or later I will probably end up working with substance-dependent people at the local treatment facility for my PhD, and it is a bit scary. Let's face it, my main interactions with addicts so far have been scary people shouting at me on the street or demanding money. A whole lecture on "judge not lest ye be judged" was just what I needed.

The lecture, by the way, was at St. George's*. It was billed as "St. George's gift to the city of Guelph". Good on them for getting a speaker addressing this topic, I say.

Besides the drug addiction stuff, my supervisor has asked me to apply for a studentship to do with problem gambling. These things are a huge pain to apply for - letters of reference, research proposal, letter from the university, transcripts, etc etc etc. But if I did get it, that would be amazing, so I guess it's worth a try. There sure isn't much literature out there about problem gambling, either.

In other news, I finally ran out of homemade laundry detergent and had to make a new batch. This time I melted the soap in 6 cups of water and added 9 litres of water after the washing soda and Borax, and stirred it a heck of a lot more while making it and as it was cooling. And it came out so much better! No more clumpiness, this is nice homogenous slime. I added a bit more washing soda (one cup) too, since Guelph's water is so stupidly hard. Have also been busy becoming very well-acquainted with vinegar's hard water deposit-removal properties. Anyway, I think I will declare the experiment a resounding success and not go back to store-bought detergent. This is cheaper and way more fun. Enough said.

Not much else new. Went to church on Easter, which was nice and I was very pleased when we sang the "Christ the Lord is risen today, A-a-alleluia" hymn. But after that it sucked. It was hard not to think of last Easter, in which I got to wander around Britain (and a bit of Ireland) with my family, packed into a tiny car with Lisa in the boot and dad at the wheel, tearing through roundabouts. Man, now THAT was fun. We were going to have a little planting party and plant our peas, but everyone involved either got sick at the last minute or couldn't tear themselves away from schoolwork. We had planned a potluck so I made cabbage rolls, but then only Katie the Newfie and her boyfriend (who was lovely) turned up. And neither of them really eats meat. Sorta disappointing. On the plus side, freezer is now packed with cabbage rolls...

* If you go to the St. George's site, do the virtual Easter egg hunt! It is pretty cool and they have some amazing stained glass windows.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

up and down, up and down

Today I get to learn how to make a wiki to manage a project. Our postdoc made one to write a grant, and I was pretty impressed with it. Everyone can contribute drafts, and you can see the old version too if you're so inclined. I've been told to write a review article on attentional effects in substance dependence with a colleague, and am nerdily excited about this new (to me) use of technology to collaborate. Grad school is fun!

I actually had a really good meeting with my supervisor yesterday that was quite motivating. He cleared up some of the mysteries (like "what exactly am I expected to know by the end of this?") and put forth a pretty good argument for having me switch into the new PSYC + NEURO designation they've just come up with. It's a collaborative program between a whole bunch of faculties and would basically make this into a full-on proper neuroscience degree, as far as I can tell. It will also involve a class that I will probably find pretty challenging given my background (hint: lacks biochemistry), but I think it will be worth it.

He also explicitly said that he's planning to ensure I learn management skills. This appears to translate into Convincing Undergraduate RAs That They Would LOVE To Run My Subjects For Free, so that sounds good to me.

On the minus side, I've been constantly tired for the last week and seem to be fighting something off. I have a bit of a cold, but lately I've been totally wiped and ready for bed by about 3pm. Mysterious. Trying to get sleep, drink fluids and be as supportive as I can to my poor embattled immune system...

Of course I did NOT do this last weekend, when I saw the Weakerthans (finally!!!) and also a great opening act called Bahamas. I was actually motivated to buy this guy's CD, despite the fact that I'm broke. Mark my words, this guy will be worth listening to... I went to the gig by myself, which I hate, but afterwards the neighbours invited me out, so that stopped me from completely feeling like a friendless loser. Er, but possibly contributed a smidgen to any germs I was incubating, as we stayed up till 3am drawing pictures with mustard on the arms of passed-out people.

Monday, 6 April 2009

stupid weather

Gah! SNOW?! I was supposed to be safe from this! The garden committee was going to plant yesterday - thank heavens we didn't (it was determined that the soil was too wet) (and now it's under two inches of snow). The garden committee, by the way, consists of four other people who are going to help me sort out my garden - "help" as in do most of it and tell me how to do the rest. We are going to split seeds and supplies five ways and share the harvest. I am so excited that we can grow tomatoes, peppers (!), and even things like okra and watermelon outside. Two of the committee are currently doing their masters in asparagus, so I'm pleased someone knowledgeable is in charge.

Today is Neuroscience Day at Guelph, and I have to present my poster. Blahhhhh. However, the keynote speaker is Bryan Kolb of undergraduate neuro textbook fame, so I am looking forward to that.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

money for eating bread

Got $5 for tasting bread today. And last week I got $5 for tasting yogurt. Not quite as lucrative as being in peoples' behavioural psych experiments, but much more fun.

There seems to be a pretty big Food Science department here, and occasionally they do consumer testing. This is the best deal ever as it takes less than half an hour, and all you have to do for your cash is make a few comments about whatever product they've come up with this week. They have a gorgeous consumer testing lab, as well. My Masters supervisor would be drooling. It is a little L-shaped room with about ten little computer desks set along the inside wall of the L. Each one has a little sliding door, behind which is a kitchen. Each also has a wall-mounted computer screen and a keyboard. They're clearly running E-Prime (I'd recognise that font anywhere!), so you just go in, type in the subject number they give you, and someone slides your little pot of yogurt or whatever through the hatch. You taste it, answer the questions, have a drink of water and they take it away and give you the next one. This would have been SO useful for the Consumer Psychology lab!

Busy week this week. I counted up my TAing hours and found I've almost worked all my hours for one of my TA-ships (I have two half TAs instead of one full one). I've done 65 out of 70 hours, with one assignment still to be handed in and the final exam to be marked. Ideally, the prof would then just pay me for the extra hours worked, but that ain't likely... he will probably just do the rest of the marking himself. Either way not so bad, I guess.

Also am making a poster for Guelph's "Neuroscience Day". Sounds pretty silly, but the keynote speaker sounds interesting, and at least it's something accomplished...

Saturday, 28 March 2009

graduation (again)

So, does anybody fancy attending my graduation? you only have to travel to Wales... Got the letter yesterday (thanks for forwarding, Mom) saying I'm allowed two tickets. I certainly hope William would be taking one, should he be in the country! But I imagine it will be pretty boring, so I would settle for him meeting me for a pint.

I also got the letter saying I got distinction, which was a huge relief as I was starting to worry that I hadn't. Not that it makes a blind bit of difference to me now, but... somehow it does.

I see I also have to wear "academic dress supplied by Ede & Ravenscroft". So far, so Harry Potter...

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

the run-around

So I'm a bit stressed about money just now... rent is expensive, but I didn't worry about it too much because I was promised a certain amount of funding for deigning to do my PhD at Guelph (!) However, summer tuition is due soon and my TA-ships will concurrently end. I guess I sort of assumed that they would just give me equal increments all year, but had a word with the graduate secretary (during which I sat down heavily on her chair, which turned out to have wheels on it and leapt backwards, and I ended up on the floor) and it turns out that this is not the case. It's tied to TA-ships and things, apparently. And they don't think they'll have any available during the summer. I really don't understand how this works, as I have a signed bit of paper saying they have to pay me the money... so why not now?! Grrrr, universities. Anyway, she was as helpful as she could be, but had to say she didn't know if anything would be decided before tuition was due. And even if it was, she said, there are hardly any summer TAs.

This was worrying, so I went over to Student Financial Services to see if they could help me out. Person A sent me to the front desk (take a number, wait in line) to ask Person B to help me make an appointment with Person C. But this confused Person B, who kicked me over to ask Person D about it. Person D said, "What? You're supposed to make the appointment with Person B! Oh, for crying out loud..." and brought me back to Person B who then agreed to make the appointment with Person C.

So the appointment was this morning at 10am. Unsurprisingly, I was running late. Managed to get my disheveled self to the bus stop only to find my bus pass missing GRRRRR. But I didn't want to be late for my Person C appointment, so I coughed up the cash for the bus but was very annoyed about it. Bus was late, of COURSE, and crowded, and by the time I finally made it to school it was nearly 10.00. So I ran upstairs to the room where I'd been told to wait, and... no one.

Ten minutes later... no one. Fifteen minutes later I threw myself on the mercy of Person D again, who shrugged at me and said Person C would come get me eventually. After ten more minutes Person D took pity on me and dragged Person C over.

Person C was useless.

I was told she could help me fill out a form which would put me in the running for bursaries (even at this late semester date) and maybe help with scholarship information. But she refused. Said, sorry, can't help you, try reapplying in summer, bye. Then I asked about scholarships and she said, oh, that's Person A's job. Bye.

Person A, however, was awesome. (Had I known this I would have skipped the whole rigmarole in the first place!) She helped me fill out the form (which she said WAS Person C's job) and said she would bring it to the right person and explain that I was applying so late in the semester because I only started in January and no one explained this to me at all.

About six hours later, I got an email saying they're giving me $500. SCORE! Suddenly I feel perhaps the legwork was worth it. That will help, and I guess I'll just keep bugging the grad secretary about when they might know about summer appointments and things.

all in all, not a bad day's work... I HATE uni administration, though!

ps. yes, I sent a nice thank you email.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Intrepid Explorer

It is so gorgeous and sunny out! (Alberta, eat your heart out). I almost like Guelph when it is like this. I missed my bus this morning, so I finally went exploring in my back yard. And yes, exploring is what it is. It is HUGE! It is also full of random buildings, at least six of 'em. Sheds and greenhouses and garages, it would appear. Also, there is some sort of vineyard (?) or at least a bunch of vines growing on poles. I cannot ID them. Mom, you have to come check this out! There is also a BBQ/firepit type thing and a lot of random stuff. And a clothesline I didn't notice when the snow was three feet high. I would like to do a bit of a garden but am not sure where - maybe among the vines? Anyway, the ground is still frozen so I guess I have a while.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Mountaineer

Man, did I ever miss getting the Mountaineer every week. Life is not the same without the Police Report.

"Woman assaults man with snow shovel"

"Area man breaks into home, steals ladies' panties"

Ahhhhhh... nothing quite like it. Thanks Mom!

Sunday, 8 March 2009

other stuff about Guelph

There is a Dutch store in Guelph! Full-on, two whole aisles of dropjes and chocolate sandwich sprinkles kind of thing. (I still don't know what is up with that - sandwiches made of chocolate sprinkles and loads of cheese, and I don't think I saw a single obese person in the Netherlands). I guess it must be pretty Dutch around here. My landlady just married a guy who owns a honey business called Dutchman's Gold. (By the way, she is by far the best one I've ever had [except Judith, of course] - this is an old house and things keep breaking, and everytime I mention something that needs repair she has her husband in to fix it the next day. Except the dripping tap, but she did have a plumber in to look at it so I can't complain too hard).

Went to check out the Anglican church today. St. George's. It is GORGEOUS - proper full-on cathedral style. Built in 1873, according to the literature the church ladies pressed on me. It was a nice service too, mostly sung Morning Prayer with a choir. (Bit hard to follow, though - they kept switching books and didn't use the BAS). And then everyone sitting around me said it was nice to see me (? maybe I looked particularly good today!) and loads of people introduced themselves and invited me to coffee. Three of them offered me rides home. It was a bit overwhelming, in fact, so I got a bit freaked out and skipped the coffee - but after barely a soul talking to me for three months, it was a nice change. Looks to be your typical Anglican congregation, average age about 73, but they were all very sweet and I will definitely be back.

Monday, 2 March 2009

I Heart Reading Week

Once again I am getting in trouble for not blogging. February was pretty crazy, though - Del came to visit and we went to Montreal for a couple of days, and then I had a conference in Niagara Falls for a couple of days. Montreal was awesome, although the 9ish-hour bus journey was not so great. (Oh, to some day not be a starving student and be able to afford the train!) I had been there once with Grandma, en route to Halifax - we just had a quick change-over, but she was kind enough to watch the bags for a few minutes so I could pop up to street level and have a look at Montreal. And I loved it! I vowed to go back, and poor Del got dragged along for the ride. (He wasn't complaining too much, though - although I did discover roughly 8 bus-hours in that he gets bus-sick).

We stayed in the Latin Quarter, which was funky and interesting. It was walkable to all over the interesting part of the city, so we explored Old Montreal and the Chinese Quarter and McGill area on foot. The weather was cold but clear, but Del was very excited about the Underground City, so we stayed indoors a lot. We just missed a winter festival (boooo!) but did get to see pot-smoking workman building a giant ice slide that extended down a few city blocks, and an ice restaurant outside! Very cool (har har har).

Back from Montreal on Wednesday night at 11, clothes into the wash, fell into bed, up at 8 am and off to Niagara with my entire lab! My supervisor hired a car that fit all of us (including Del, who I couldn't exactly ditch in Guelph by himself) and booked us hotel rooms. The conference was small but enjoyable, and as my labmate Asma isn't from around here either (she's Indian, in fact) we were both excited to go take the obligatory tourist photos of the falls. We went out for dinner that night and GOOD LORD! They said it was tacky, but I was expecting sort of English seaside tacky. But this was a whole other level of incredible tack. The flashing lights, the screaming Pharoahs and Frankensteins, the six or eight 4D RIDES!!!!!... man, it was something else. I was fascinated. Sadly, I was there to be all thoughtful and academic and didn't get to explore much. Lucky Del got to wander around all he wanted, though. (And what did he do? Bought $20 worth of fudge!)

So that was Reading Week, and it was fun. But sadly it's over, I'm much poorer (though very pleased with how it went down) and way behind with work. So this week (month, in fact) it is nose the grindstone and spending down to the bone!

Monday, 2 February 2009

the Kiwi would approve

I made dinner for the neighbours last night. I tried roasting a chicken for the first time (technically I've done it before as a joint effort, but previously always made Del be in charge of the meat). I sort of vaguely followed a recipe, although a few changes were made due to the unavailability of fresh rosemary. I really need to start a herb garden at some point.

I also made roasted root vegetables, golden couscous and Remkes' cornbread. And gravy. It was delicious. The neighbours, who are all very single guys' guys who technically can cook (they claim) but don't, were very impressed, so therefore I was pleased. Also they brought dessert and a bottle of homemade plonk, AND did the dishes. Very satisfactory guests. They are a lot less guy-ish when not on their home turf, as well.

Things are going pretty well. This is a week of heavy, heavy marking due to circumstances (one of my co-TAs has a trip to Africa, so my half of the work is all being dumped on me now instead of being spread out over the course of the semester). As well, I think I might actually be starting to test participants this week. It's a study that was already ongoing, but that relates to what I am doing. Will be nice to get started, I guess.

Anyway, I should go do some marking. The pressure is on - this stuff is due tomorrow :(

Monday, 26 January 2009

Giant Bucket of Slime

So I tried something really cool on the weekend. (Being bored and having no friends at least means I have lots of time to mess around in the kitchen and such). I read a couple of articles about making your own laundry detergent, and it sounded easy and kind of fun. So I gave it a try! I used a combination of this recipe because it was the easiest to follow, and this one, where I first saw it. (The description of making your own giant bucket of slime totally hooked me!)

I ended up sort of combining the recipes, while simultaneously getting a bit confused about the amount of water to use (silly Americans - they have these weird things called gallons that are basically 3.8 litres, but they also switch to cups occasionally. Confusing!)

So basically I used Ivory soap, washing soda and Borax. I used the cheese grater to grate the soap - it was way easier than I expected. Then melted it on the stove on low heat in about 8 cups of water (because I meant to use four cups except forgot my measuring cup actually holds two cups of liquid). Then I dumped in half a cup of Borax and about 3/4 of a cup of washing soda and stirred it. Dumped the whole works into a giant bucket and added an indeterminate amount of water - this is where I got confused about the whole gallons and cups thing. I think it ended up being about 6.5L. Stirred it really well and let it cool with the lid off, so some of the (possibly) excess water would evaporate.

The hardest part was waiting all night for it to cool, but this morning I had my promised giant bucket of slime! It's white and sort of gelatinous, but a bit liquidy. I did some laundry with it this morning and it seemed to work fine, except that the things don't smell perfume-y like they do with regular detergent. Which is fine with me. So now I have a big old bucket of detergent, plus enough to make at least three more vats of it. It was about $6 each for the washing soda and Borax, and $2 for three bars of Ivory (you're not supposed to use anything with too much colour or perfume or additives). Which is a pretty good deal for enough soap to last me for at least a year, plus the amusement of making it.

While I was hauling home my giant bucket from Home Bargains to make my detergent in, I saw the neighbour next door and said hi. He seemed very pleased to see me and invited me over to their house later. I said sure, but I don't think he believed me, because he turned up at the door an hour later and got my mobile number to go out later on. I really didn't feel like braving a bunch of new people, but sucked it up and went over and was SO glad I did. We went to a hippie bar called the Cornerstone to see live music, and then went out dancing. And it was FUN! Met tons of new people (though no contact info) and got free cake and a couple of free beers. Heck yes! Also, it is nice to know the neighbours. The one who talked to me seems to only live there part-time, but there are a bunch more of them - some combination of students and just-done-being-students, I think. Feeling much better just for having been out to socialize, and not feeling so much like a recluse.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

I am taking a break from marking! I'm not taking any classes this semester (only a required seminar where I just have to turn up and listen) but I have a sinking feeling that I'm going to be learning a huge pile of stuff per week in order to be able to mark for two classes. One's a 4th-year neurobiology seminar dealing with learning and memory (haven't done any of that since undergrad) and one's stats (UGH). However, the nice thing is I can mark from home in my PJs. Can't argue with that.

Although still a pretty empty house, it is starting to look reasonably home-like around here. The landlady left me a bunch of student-grade furniture she didn't want anymore (for which I will be forever grateful) and I bought a bunch of stuff from the dollar store, a few pans and a cheap futon to use as a couch. You would not believe the number of people who seem to think their old crappy futon is worth $200. Good lord. Mine is not the loveliest thing in the universe (and it required extensive cat-hair removal), but it was cheap and delivery was included! And now I have somewhere to sit. And a spare bed, when you all come for a visit!

Here is a post I started last week but was too lazy to finish then:

Canadians are so cute. Today waiting for the bus they formed an orderly queue as a woman in a wheelchair slowly descended the ramp. But then after she left, nobody wanted to be the first to move. Eventually the bus driver said, "C'mon you guys, it's too cold to stand around out there! Get on the bus!" and there was a minor stampede. Brits are champion queuers, but they are DEFINITELY NOT SHY about moving forward if they are first in the queue, or even if the first person is showing no signs of going anywhere. Also, the first thing I noticed starting school here was the sheer number of people holding doors for me. They will even hold a door if you are five or ten metres away, necessitating a bit of a sprint to get to the door if you don't want to make them wait forever. Which Canadians generally don't.

Anyway, it's less cold here (or less consistently cold) but way more snowy. Perhaps a house with a lease saying I have to shovel it was a bad call! But the bus system is pretty good and goes right past my house. I have found bus routes to a grocery store and a Zellers, so that should hold me for now. I think when the snow goes away I should be able to walk to work with relative ease, as well. The bus is free, but it would be nice to have the daily exercise.

Here are some pictures of a snowman I made at the bus stop. And a buried bicycle.







Saturday, 10 January 2009

book spree

I went on a book-buying spree at Chapters today. THANK YOU, Grandma and Tim! So exciting to be able to actually buy stuff for once.

Also checked out the Farmers' Market, which seems to be a good one. Only problem is that Farmers' Markets make me nervous. Always so crowded and shovey, you can't really see the prices, everyone wants to TALK to you all the time... makes me very uncomfortable. Silly but true!

I tried buying some shampoo bars at Lush today too. They are expensive, but I was told by girls I did my Masters with that they last forever. Seems a weird concept but worth a try! Also apparently they travel really well, which makes sense. Definitely smaller and more compact than liquid shampoo.

Okay, off to read my new books...

Thursday, 8 January 2009

house drama

OH, the drama!

Right, so I was staying in a B&B/lady's house where students rented out rooms, and I wanted out. For one thing, she needed the room back, so I would have been on an air mattress in the living room. For another, I felt uncomfortable. She kept doing things like not telling me a time for breakfast, so I just wandered down whenever I felt like it (it was not cooked, just cereal and make-yer-own toast). The last day I was there, she told me pointedly when I came down (at 9 am) that she "usually stops breakfast at 9..." making me feel totally guilty, even though there was no indication of this earlier. Argh!

So in my haste to get out, I decided to go with the dingy basement suite, having negotiated a shorter lease. I dumped my stuff into a cab and moved over there. But once in, I discovered it was FREEZING... and once all the lights were on, you could see the filth of the place. The floor was disgusting, the walls were dirty, there were cobwebs everywhere and dust on everything. To top it all off, the fridge wasn't working. I found the latter out AFTER I had put my milk into it.

I had another house to look at that night, mostly because I forgot to cancel the appointment and would have felt guilty cancelling right before I was supposed to arrive. So I went to the house, and it was an older house with two apartments in it. Both had separate doors and separate access to the basement for laundry and that. Wood floors, lots of windows, BATHTUB... it was pretty nice. (At least in comparison). I wished I hadn't seen it because it was so much nicer. I fretted all the way back to horrible basement suite of filth, and spent a freezing and uncomfortable night there. And I called the landlady of the other place and asked if I could move in right away. She said not only could I, but she would throw in a bed and some other furniture if I wanted.

I hadn't signed anything at the basement suite or paid any money yet. So I went and hid at school (had lots to do!) and waited for the landlady of the new place to call and say I could move in (she was checking references and all that good stuff). It was a horrible day - basement suite landlord doesn't really speak English and I wasn't looking forward to a scene. Plus, there was no guarantee that new landlady would get all the references and that before the basement suite guy was pressuring me to sign something. So stressful. Stomach hurt all day.

FINALLY, around 6.30 pm, she called. I grabbed a cab from uni, went to the basement, grabbed my stuff, left a note, the keys and some money, dumped my stuff into the cab, and legged it for the new place. Having seen the suite, the cab driver said there's no way SHE would have stayed there and it was a good idea to get out.

New landlady is very helpful, new house is above ground with windows galore and an ENORMOUS yard, and I have been given a queen-sized bed and a bunch of furniture! I feel sort of bad about the whole fiasco, but am so happy to be somewhere nice. It is a bit further away, but quite possibly still walking distance.

So now only the small matter of a PhD to sort out...

Monday, 5 January 2009

busy day

Just a quick one because I am exhausted (from not being able to sleep last night, and having pigs texting me at midnight did not help!)

I looked at one more place today, which was super nice (still a basement suite, but enormous windows and loads of light) but far away from uni and expensive, relatively speaking. It was not that big but had loads of storage. But no furniture. And no taps in the bathroom, but apparently that was being fixed as we spoke!

On the way back I miscalculated the bus and stood in the freezing wind for half an hour, and 20 min more when I had to change busses at the university. This did not help convince me that moving way up there was a good idea.

Also today I met the wonderful Graduate Secretary, got a mailbox and an office and keys for both, found out my TA assignments, found out I didn't KNOW about my TA assignments because there is yet another mysterious email address that has been set up for me that I'm supposed to have a password for but was never given, went to visit IT about this and made friends with them, explored a tiny bit of campus, and got my student card and bus pass.

Tomorrow I meet my supervisor. But the grad secretary said you can tell when he's in because music is playing, which seems like a good sign.

And finally, I think I will just take the first place I looked at. I bargained him down to an 8-month lease, which will take me to Sept when there should be a lot available. I hope this is a good idea. I just want to have somewhere to put my stuff, and the thought of having a mattress already is an alluring one. A mattress that I then do not have to move!

whether this is a good call or a rash move remains to be seen.

In other hilarious news, the girls who are staying in this house invited me for a (secret) glass of wine (the landlady doesn't let them take glasses upstairs, apparenty). Anastasia the Russian girl told me she was going to move out four months ago, and had a place set up in a bachelor suite with an older woman in the rest of the house. This woman was really bossy and kept trying to dictate her every move, and then got really upset when Anastasia said she did not want to hand over the money order for the rent until she could move her stuff in. The lady told Anastasia that she should give her (the lady) more respect because she was a retired professor, and kicked her out of the car (the lady had insisted on giving her a lift). This was all starting to sound oddly familiar...

I asked the lady's name, and it was indeed my friend from yesterday's kidnapping and tea adventures. Good lord. Anastasia thought it was hilarious that she apparently has still not let her "apartment" (apparently it didn't even have a stove). Narrow escape!

Oh, and I agreed to go to Toronto with the girls on the weekend. Couch-surfing. What the heck, it's not like I was doing much else... or know anyone else in town!

I have to say, I am finding it strange not being the international student of the bunch. When Anastasia asked where I was from, I automatically said "Canada", until she patiently asked me which province.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

kidnapped by a helpful lady

Well, I feel like I've explored Guelph fairly thoroughly! I waited till noon to call about houses, which was probably silly but I don't want to piss off potential landlords. So I called the overly friendly lady that I spoke to last week and she said she would come pick me up. And she did, and had a chat with the overly friendly lady I am staying with temporarily, which let me off the hook for once. Once I was in the car, the lady said that she didn't have the one-bedroom available any more... but she decided to take me on a driving tour of the university anyway. !!

By then it was too late to escape (plus it was a nice thought, if strange not to tell me the place wasn't available BEFORE she picked me up). She then added that her friend Jocelyn had a room and she was taking me to see her. !!! So off we drove to Jocelyn's. I actually really liked Jocelyn - she reminded me of Auntie Barb, which can only be a good thing - but rather than a self-contained suite like I was looking for, she had a room with a pull-out bed. We had tea with Jocelyn, which I found quite surreal since I had basically just been adopted by this lady out of the blue! Good tea, though.

Then Lady 1 had to go to the mall, so I caught a ride out there and thanked her profusely for her "help", and scampered off. So a bit of a strange experience, but clearly well meant and anyway, I did get to see a good portion of Guelph.

At the mall I bought a mobile (email me for the number!) and, after going round the mall three times because people cannot seem to give good directions, found the bus stop. However, I misread the signs and ended up on the right bus going the entirely wrong direction. (Steph, sound familiar? but the 9 and not the 6 this time). I was on my way to see another house, but took 45 minutes to get there in the end because of going along the ENTIRE bus round. Hi Guelph! You're looking awfully familiar by now!

The house was actually a basement suite. So here's the deal:

Cons:
- dingy, kinda ugly
- not a whole ton of light
-shower but no bath
- landlord doesn't speak English so much
- separate entrance, but steep and narrow/scary stairs

Pros:
- big for a basement suite
- quite liked the landlord, although he barely speaks English so communication was difficult
- landlord says I can paint away the dinginess if I want
- laundry and utils included in rent (which isn't bad, $675)
- biggest pro is it come more-or-less furnished - couple of couches and chairs and a BED! That would save a lot of trouble in the mattress department.

So? What do you think? I have one more to look at tomorrow or Tues, but really need to decide fast because I can only stay here till Tuesday morning...

I will be so glad, by the way, when I have my own place. Two days of being uber-polite at all times is starting to wear! Every time I go downstairs it's a half-hour chat, which is fine, but bring on a solitary lair...

Thursday, 1 January 2009

2009!

Happy new year! I am stressed. How come two weeks in Alberta seemed like such a long time when I planned it? Now it is nearly gone and by this time next week, everything will have changed.

However, I have a flight booked, a ride to Guelph, a B&B to stay at for the first few days, and a few houses to look at on Sunday and Monday. And the promise of a TA-ship that only involves marking - hoorah! Marking, I don't mind. (Teaching = scary). So really I'm as sorted as I can be, considering. Except that there's a lot more work to do before I'm really properly sorted (as in, have a home and an internet connection).

Oh well, I have had a great time at home. Lots of sitting around reading (yay!), some skating, some cooking, lots of sorting boxes (less yay). Lots of family. Lots of Corner Gas. It was fun.

So I don't really do resolutions, but I do try to reflect on things I've learned/new places I've been in the past year, because it makes me feel less pathetic. So:

New places:

- Prague
- New bit of Germany
- Cornwall (definitely have to go back)
- the Cotswolds
- Liverpool
- ermmmmm... Banbury? Okay fine, not too much travelling this year...

BUT I did get my masters, learn how to fence epee and sabre (kinda), learn some E-Prime (useful for programming experiments), try kick-aerobics, crash a lot of parties and convince some hapless university to let me into their PhD program. I've had worse years.

I'd say bring on 2009, but that would work better if I weren't dreading the next week. Hmmmm. Well, it can't fail to be interesting!

Happy New Year, everyone.